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On Faith: Awakening your spiritual connections

December 06, 2010|By Deborah Barrett

As December darkness comes earlier every day, as our joints ache from the unusually cold weather, and we feel the year quickly drawing to a close, we naturally become more reflective. Even in the midst of shopping, parties, gifts and "to do" lists, we turn inward. It is easy to see the external symbols of religion (for example, the Menorah and Nativity Scenes) as well as the quintessential rituals and activities in churches, temples and synagogues. Yet the heart of religious traditions — silent prayer, contemplation and meditation — is also present, though more quietly.

After eight days of meditation, Siddhartha Gotama — the Buddha — was enlightened.

On Dec. 8 every year, Buddhists from around the world celebrate this holiday as "Bodhi Day." How can the experience and teaching of a man who lived in India 2,000 years ago be relevant to those of us living in Orange County in the 21st Century? The term "enlightenment" often evokes images of a guru on a mountain top or bald monks in monasteries. It may seem like an ideal which can be achieved only by a chosen few. But in modern English, enlightenment or "bodhi" is better translated as "awakening" or "waking up." The Buddha means "the awakened one." In Zen, the Buddha is regarded as offering teaching and an example, but he is not worshipped as a divine being. The way to truly commemorate the Buddha's awakening is to do our own waking up.

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What are we waking up from? To be asleep is to rush through days on auto pilot, with no connection to the deeper meaning of our lives. To be asleep is to be stuck in our hardened conclusions about what we enjoy and what is a waste of time, rather than be open to investigating things freshly, to see people and events just as they are each moment. To be asleep is to spend too much time phoning, texting, e-mailing, Internet surfing and watching TV. But one important aspect of "waking up" is to discover for ourselves where we are asleep in our own lives. Boredom, irritability, depression and compulsion are red flags.

We are asleep to the wonder of our lives. Vietnamese Zen Teacher Thich Nhat Hahn describes waking up as the discovery that life is a miracle:

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